Arizona’s recruitment of players from top-flight prep programs, such as Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill Academy and Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep, has never been as prevalent as it is now.
The number of players attending such institutions who are interested in Arizona increased by one Monday. Class of 2011 point guard Quinn Cook is leaving Hyattesville (Md.) DeMatha for Oak Hill, where he will become a teammate of UA commit Sidiki Johnson. Johnson transferred to Oak Hill from Newark (N.J.) St. Benedict’s in May (he originally is from St. Raymond’s in the Bronx).
A couple of weeks ago, Class of 2011 small forward prospect Amir Garrett announced that he was leaving Lawndale (Calif.) Leuzinger for Findlay.
This exposure bodes well for UA coach Sean Miller‘s recruiting efforts, even if, for example, Class of 2011 shooting guard Nick Johnson decides to go elsewhere after completing his eligibility at Findlay. Making a name for himself, his staff and program to these high-profile recruits is extremely important especially because Miller did not attract such talent at Xavier.
Whereas they did not know much about Miller or his coaching style as recently as two years ago, these prep-school recruits have their eyes open now to his program. They no longer see Arizona as Lute Olson’s program. The reason: Arizona is now where it’s at with players who play for these college breeding operations.
Miller signed two from these institutions before he coached a game at Arizona: Lamont “MoMo” Jones from Oak Hill and Kevin Parrom from South Kent (Conn.) Prep.
Former UA coach Lute Olson tried to recruit talent out of Oak Hill Academy but struck out when three of its stars did not qualify academically or opted to go elsewhere — Orlando Vega, Stephen Jackson and Brandon Jennings (the NBA rookie sensation who played a year in Italy rather than honoring his letter of intent). Ben Davis is an Oak Hill alum, but he attended Florida and Kansas before landing in Tucson in 1994.
Cook’s transfer from DeMatha to Oak Hill was strictly a basketball decision, according to his mother Janet Cook in a Washington Post article.
“We’re an educated family, and we’re thinking outside the box here,” she said, referencing that this was not a decision based on academics. “This is about getting focused and preparing for the transition to college.”
Focused is the key word. The main reason why these prospects transfer from a traditional high school team to these high-profile programs is to get a taste of what college basketball is like before they advance to the next level. They experience travel and playing against the best talent at their age level — and, of course, the exposure.
That’s ironic in Cook’s case inasmuch as he is leaving DeMatha to escape his celebrity status at the school.
Cook, a member of the USA Basketball under-17 national team that will compete in the FIBA World Championships, has already experienced basketball at a level higher than the standard high school standout. In the last month alone, he has competed in the Pangos All-America Camp in Long Beach, Chris Paul Point Guard Camp in Winston-Salem, N.C., and trained with the U.S. team in San Antonio with other high-profile players.
If Cook happens to commit to Arizona — he told me last month that he plans an unofficial visit in August — Miller knows he will bring in a seasoned player who, for example, can weather a Pac-10 road trip more so than others. Cook will demand instant playing time. The same goes for Nick Johnson, who Miller has pursued aggressively since he took the UA job last April. And don’t forget Kadeem Jack, the ever-elusive recruit who remains interested in Arizona after deciding to attend South Kent instead.
Another Class of 2011 guard recruit Jahii Carson does not play for a private prep school. He instead hails from a public high school — Mesa. Carson apparently will stay at Mesa. Damien Leonard, a Class of 2011 sharpshooter from J.L. Mann High School in Greenville, S.C., is staying put at Mann for now. He lists his final five as Arizona, South Carolina, Clemson, Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech. He will likely take an official visit to Tucson in September or October.
Arizona signee Daniel Bejarano also avoided prep school by sticking with his roots at Phoenix North. The decision to stay was for the best from a team standpoint because the Mustangs won consecutive state titles to end his career.
“I could have played for a prep school,” Bejarano told me in April. “Some people asked me about it, but I just couldn’t see leaving my guys behind at North. I grew up with those guys. We’ve been teammates since we were freshmen. They’re like brothers to me.
“I knew that during the summer I would be playing some good players anyway (during the AAU circuit). And I always challenge myself to be a better player. I know that I improved a lot as a player playing at North.”
As recently as 10 years ago, it was unheard of for a player from DeMatha leaving for a higher profile program. Morgan Wootten built that into an elite program in his 46 years there (1956 to 2002) as a head coach. Former NBA stars Adrian Dantley and Danny Ferry played for Wootten. Even the venerable John Wooden once said of Wootten, “I stand in awe of him.”
Now, a player is leaving Wootten’s once-proud institution for what appears to be greener pastures. Talk about a sign of the times.
Cook’s move to Oak Hill also signals that Maryland and Georgetown are now considered long shots. He removes himself from Maryland and Georgetown fans at DeMatha bothering him about his next move. Kentucky and Duke are prominently mentioned with Cook. He also lists Arizona, North Carolina, Villanova, St. John’s and UConn as possibilities.
Miller and Co. are also prominently involved with other Findlay prospects such Class of 2012 recruit power forward Winston Shepard and Class of 2013 target Nigel Williams-Goss.
Of this group of six — Cook, Nick Johnson, Garrett, Jack, Shepard and Williams-Goss — the UA would be considered a success if it can land one of them (in addition to Sidiki Johnson) in the next two to three years. With the increased amount of prep-school players interested in Arizona, odds are Miller will sign one of them. If that happens, it will be a triumph for him beyond the normal scope of recruiting.